Sunday, July 30, 2006

In theory...

This travel blog had great potential; however, I think it´s going to have to wait until I get back home before it really takes form...

I´ve been trying to keep a paper journal, or at a least a calendar of what we´ve done, so that when I get back, I can type up everything.

We did a LOT this week. I can´t even remember everything right now, but we´ve taken tons of photos and there will be stories to tell.

We went to the wedding last night and stayed out until 4am. It was a lot of fun and a lot of food, ha. The two people getting married were Andrea (Sarah´s brother´s father´s neice) and Raul. We felt a bit isolated from Raul´s side of the family, and we were very much out numbered. I went as one of Andrea´s cousins and made small talk with a few women...

I really want to learn how to dance this year. Note to self.

Tomorrow we´re heading to Andorra, the one place in Europe that our Eurail passes don´t work, argh. We´re there for a couple days, and then off to somewhere else... at which point Sarah´s grandparents and cousin are leaving. Rima, Sarah and I are likely heading to Portugal or possibly Northern Spain. Once Rima leaves, Sarah and I are going to make our way up to Paris.

Speaking of, we need to figure out how we´re going to get from Paris to London... I think we´re going to try and plan that now-ish.

I apologize again for the lack of stories and photos, but hey - I figure it´ll be a fun way to relive everything once I get home! Heh.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona this past Monday. I wrote a blog entry, but blogspot was being difficult, so I saved it to my email... it wasn´t very exciting, so I´ll edit it and repost it at a later time.

We´re staying in an apartment in the Eixample district, for those of you who know the area, but we´ve been spending a lot of time on Las Ramblas, a main street.

I don´t have time to write more now, but all is well and we´re having fun!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Quick update

We´re sitting in an internet cafe listening to the Beatles... in MADRID! Ha! Anyway, this will be a brief update as it´s costing $$$ and we´re poor college students.

Bullet point style update for now:
- I got sick! yay! Free breakfast from the hostel had its price...I was better after a couple hours of getting friendly with the toilet. Ick.
- Sarah was on a flight with ALL female staff (including the pilots!)
- We slept for 13 plus hours last night!
- Today we went to the Palacio de Madrid, Museo del Prado y el Parque de Retiro.
- Then we drank a lot of wine and had some "interesting" conversations.......... perhaps more on that later, perhaps not.

That´s all for now. We´re heading to Barcelona Monday morning and we´ll be there for a week!

We´re having a great time and we´re sorry we don´t have time to write emails to all of you... hopefully in Barcelona we´ll have access to free internet, heh.

Adios!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Estoy en Madrid!

I made it! However many hours (too jet-lagged to do the math), many metro trains, and two lucky turns later, I´m sitting in the Mad Hostel. It looks a lot like the photos I got from their website and posted previously.

Let me recount my journey chronologically...

First off, if I didn´t get a chance to say goodbye to you, BYE! heh, I know that doesn´t quite count, but there were a lot of you. I took Tuesday off to do laundry, spend time with my parents, and to work on calming my nerves...

Sonja gave me a ride to the Oakland airport yesterday at 5:15am (THANK YOU SONJA!!!). I got through security and to my gate in under 15 minutes, ha. I sat there waiting anxiously and barely keeping myself awake. We finally boarded and I made friends with the guy sitting next to me, his name was Ken and I completely forget where he was from... somewhere in the states (East? South? Not West!). I dozed off for a while and before I knew it, we were in Atlanta. I found my gate and was immediately approached by a Spanish-speaking woman and put to the test... She asked if this was the place to wait for the plane to Madrid and I told her it was as far as I knew and I felt confident in my Spanish skills... for the time being. I waited there for about 3 hours or so, a bit more, and after getting my passport checked, the woman came up to me again... Only this time I had a really hard time understanding her. After some repeating and despacios, we were able to commuicate... and then, just before boarding, a woman starting screaming in Spanish. She had a baby in her arms and a little girl by her side. She was frantically running around and screaming "Mi Bolsa!" She had either lost or someone had stolen her purse. She was screaming, and this was in Spanish so I may or may not be 100% correct, that her ticket and her passport were in the purse... The airline people were freaked out cos they didn´t speak Spanish (way to go, Delta...) and I felt really bad but had no idea what to do to help. Some people went over and helped her look and then we started boarding... I never saw her get on the plane. Que triste.

I took my seat next to this Spanish couple. They asked me what time we arrive in Madrid, but due to my incompetence, I couldn´t for the life of me understand what they were saying... It was one of those times where you hear the words but it just doesn´t click. Argh! I felt really stupid and American and... yeah. I finally got it and answered "nueve de la mañana" and that was that. The guy helped me with my suitcase and then began talking to his girlfriend. Of course I could understand them when they weren´t talking to me, figures. Partyway through the flight an attendant asked if I´d like to move to an open window pair of seats so that I´d have more space. I took the offer and finished watching "Take the Lead" with Antonio Banderas... yeah. This isn´t very exciting, I apologize.

My first culture shock/sign that I was in another country was that immediately after getting off the plane, there were people smoking indoors! There were many designated smoking spots within the corridors. We were lead in circles (not sure who was leading, it might have been the blind leading the blind) up and down stairs, passing doorways that opened to stairwells we had already walked down...

Upon getting in line to go through customs and leave the airport, I heard a small group of people talking in English. I decided to be brave and ask if they were taking the metro from the airport. I got lucky, all three of them were going to places very close to where I had to go! The woman was from California, she was a professor at UCR and used to teach spanish... she was our leader, heh. The two guys were young-ish (mid-20s, early 30s?) and were from California & New York. It felt good to have travel buddies for a while... I think I would have been fine by myself, but I enjoyed the company. The Metro is very similar to BART in that you look for the final destination of the train (i.e., Richmond to go from Ashby to North Berkeley) and it´s even simpler because each platform only serves on train. It makes getting from transfer to transfer a bit of a trek, but it makes it pretty difficult to get on the wrong train, which is comforting.

After the exhausting, but surprisingly clean) Metro ride (hot, crowded, heavy luggage), I arrived at Anton Martin station and walked up to the street. My directions said to take Magdalene St, but there was not a street sign in sight... I started walking in a direction that look promising (the lucky turn #1) and after 3 or so blocks, I decided I´d better ask someone. These two old women helped me and... I UNDERSTOOD EVERYTHING THEY SAID!!! Yessssssss. Unfortunately, the street they pointed at was blocked off from where I was standing. I decided to walk on the street parallel until another cross street appeared. A bit later there was a group of young people crossing, so I decided to cross with them. I couldn´t figure out the rules of the road enough to cross by myself, so I had to leap at the opportunity to follow locals. This is lucky turn #2. Turns out, the place I crossed had a hidden walkway that allowed me to get to Magdalena Street. I walked for a bit, hoping I was in fact on Magdalena St, and then I saw the other street I needed to turn onto. Stalled for a bit pretending to put my paper in my purse until a local crossed the street where I needed to. The cars just kind of suddenly stopped for him and I ran across. I made it to the hostel, got my "key", and went to my room.

The only problem is that the hostel doesn´t give keys, they give you a plastic watch-looking thing with some sort of sensor inside and a room number written on it. I couldn´t for the life of me figure out how to open the damn door. I managed to figure out that when you put the "key" near the handle, a light blinked and the door clicked to what sounded like open... but the knob wouldn´t turn. I waited until I heard footsteps and then I asked "Perdon..." and the guy said "Oh, hey, problems with the key? Lemme see that..." and I was caught off guard, heh. English! I had been practicing what to say when someone walked by, and then I didn´t even need it, heh. I finally got inside and found a guy sleeping on one of the other bunks. He heard me struggling with the key (seriously, at least 5 full minutes) and had awoken. Turns out he´s from San Jose! Ha. I took a shower, and again, struggled to find the light to the bathroom, and then got lost in the hostel trying to find my way back to the main floor to get to the internet.

Obviously, I made it.

I feel kinda off, just cos of the jet-lagg... so I´m taking it easy today. I´ll probably walk around a bit, maybe call Pilar... One of the guys I met offered to meet up tonight, but I don´t think I´m up for it. I hafta wake up early to meet Sarah´s grandparents, and I need a day to adjust before going out and drinking. My stomach isn´t up for that, especially after plane food.

This computer does not have a way for me to upload photos, so that will have to wait... I took a few of various things so far. I´ll add them to this entry once I get a chance. This keyboard is also just different enough to be confusing... argh. Little things are in slightly different places, so I´ve had twice as many (if not more) typos than usual. In addition, the websites are in Spanish, which just take that extra few seconds of thought power, heh. Point is, this entry is taking me far too long to write, ha!

Because of this, I don´t have time to relpy to all of your emails & facebook posts, but I read them! I´ve already taken up more than my fair share on the computer, heh.

Talia -- I will try to get those scarves for you next week! I´m pretty good at bargaining, so I´ll see what I can do, heh.

P.S. No one here wears sneakers... Luckily mine are black, so they don´t stand out, but still... If I can find a decently priced and sized sandal, I might invest in a good pair. It´s freakin´ hot here! Funny thing is, most of the states are hotter than this right now...

P.P.S. 9:17pmThis really cute french guy moved into my room, his name is William (in English) and something abbreviated-sounding in French. I feel bad cos his English and Spanish are both pretty poor, so it's really difficult to communicate. Neither of us can figure out the damn door. Ha.
I'm on a different computer now and it's even MORE confusing... why? Because it's labeled like a Spanish keyboard, but it types like an American one... ahhh!!! I retrained myself and now I have to type without looking, which I normally do about 80% of the time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ready, set... let's go!

Eurail Passes -- check!
Ride to the airport -- check!
Ride home from the airport -- check!
Figure out finances - - check!
Pack -- half check
Tentative itinerary -- check! (I updated the one in my previous post)
List of contacts -- check!
Photocopy documents -- check!
Reservations for first two weeks -- check!
Euros -- almost check!
Daypack/purse -- almost check!
Sandals -- maybe check... not necessary.


Have something fun to look forward to so that coming home isn't a complete letdown -- check!
(Disneyland, birthday, new house!)

Get really excited and ready to leave -- CHECK!!!

I leave in one week from today, whooo!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Yet another pre-trip post... (plus itinerary!)

Almost $1400 (total) later, Sarah and I both are new proud owners of 1 month consecutive day youth Eurail passes! They should arrive in the next 5-7 days. We're going to pay out-of-pocket for the trip from Madrid to Barcelona, and then activate our passes upon leaving Barcelona on July 30.

And an updated itinerary! (updated again July 12)

(click to view a larger image)

So... in order to know whether or not I'll be able to keep up with this travel blog once I'm actually abroad, I must answer the question "where will I be staying?"

In Madrid we'll be staying at a hotel with Sarah's family. Not sure about internet access there, so we shall see. In Barcelona we're staying in an apartment that Sarah's family rented for the week, probably no internet access unless we go to a cafe. The following week and a half are still undetermined... In Paris Sarah and I will stay in a hostel, most seem to have internet these days. From there we're likely going to fly to London as it's actually cheaper than Eurostar. We'll be staying with Dean for those couple days! In Italy we're either going to stay with one of Sarah's friends or at a hostel... and we'll get to visit Alyise! In Austria we're staying with one of Sarah's friends, and same with Switzerland. When we get back to Madrid both Victor and Lani will be around, but Sarah and I will probably stay in a hostel for the nights.

I'll do my best to update and check my email when possible. Otherwise, I'll get it all on paper and do my best to fill the text with photos when I return home.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Loma Mar

This doesn't really have anything to do with my upcoming travels abroad, except for the catalyst aspect, and perhaps sometime in the far future once my bank account recovers from this summer...

I'm home now; it's over. I'm sort of in shock, but also very relieved. I love being there, and I love knowing that I'm good at doing something... but it's extremely busy and stressful. I definitely feel reassured in my decision to spend far too much money and disappear in Europe for 6 weeks. Whooo!!! I need to not be responsible, organized, or "in charge" for a while.


This summer there were quite a few international staff members and luckily I was able to spend the majority of our staff beach trip getting to know a few of them.



I'm excited to reconnect with Dean "Rugby", a former international staff member, and to visit Victor when he returns after camp. Miguel, one of the guys from Spain, was gracious enough to give me his copy of the Madrid Metro map... that will definitely come in handy my first day there when I'll be all alone! It also made the trip seem that much more real... I now can visualize the many transfers I will have to navigate once I arrive, heh.

The summer is already going quickly. I can't decide if that's a good or bad thing. I think it just is. I'm excited for where I am and where I'm going, yet I also want to take time to appreciate the places I've been, the things I've done, and the people I've met.